Teaching piano needs to be more than just showing up for lessons. I feel that as a teacher you should always looking for the next opportunity for development, both for your students and yourself. Last weekend saw a double bill of music making at St John’s Church Hall in Bath, featuring a Yamaha C7 grand piano, provided by The Piano Shop Bath. On the Friday there was the student recital. I regularly collaborate with fellow piano teacher Susanna Downes to organise our quarterly student recitals, an important opportunity for students to perform their pieces to an audience. The following day there was also an evening of music performed by Susanna and myself, along with Jon Stabler on Cello and Jennie Mason-Smith on Flute. The following is an account of what turned out to be a wonderful weekend, with many great memories left in my mind.
The Student Recital
The student recitals are a great opportunity for students to develop their performance skills, by learning how to deal with the nerves that inevitably come with playing to an expectant audience. The recitals also provide a setting to play music outside of the family home; unlike most other instruments, the piano is not portable like a violin and so performance opportunities are limited to where there is a suitable piano available.
In sponsoring these student recitals, The Piano Shop Bath provides a top of the range piano that allows the performer to concentrate on their playing, rather than worrying about the piano. The Yamaha C7 is the flagship model of The Piano Shop Bath’s hire fleet, and is regularly hired out for concerts at leading venues across the South West region. It was a real privilege for the performers and the audience, to be provided with such an instrument in a church hall in Bath!
As with the previous student recitals, the occasion brought out the best playing in the performers, who ranged from 6 – 17 years in age. As a teacher, it was very heartening to see all of the skills that I had passed on being put into practice: keeping the rhythm, counting and not stopping if there was a mistake! All of this was at the fore, with students instinctively using advice that has been hard wired in them for months and years before! But crucially, there was some great music being made, with even my youngest students finding a place within themselves, to focus and breathe life into their music. This is the biggest challenge when performing to an audience, where you have to be able to do more than simply press the right notes at the right time (was it Bach who said that?).
However it was great to see that all the students were not taking the easy route. Even the shyest of performs transformed once they sat on the piano stool. I think it shows a great level of maturity, especially for a seven year old to go through that process and put on a professional performance that has musicality at the centre. I highly recommend learning an instrument for all children, even if a career in music is not what they want. It compels the performer to dig deep and rely on their own abilities. Self reliance and emotional control are huge factors here, and they are skills that are transferable to any walk of life or professional career. No doubt it can be a real challenge, but I am pleased to say that every student recital that we have held has been exemplary for mature musical performances. As always, I cannot wait for the next one!
On a side note, I also stepped up to the plate and gave a first live performance of the Prelude in G minor, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This piece forms an integral part of my LTCL diploma program, which I am currently preparing for. It is a tricky piece in many aspects, but I wanted to perform something of that level for the students, to provide inspiration and so they can see the full potential of the instrument. ‘See’ being the crucial word here for this piece. Some pieces ‘look’ much easier to play than they are, however the Prelude in G minor looks and is challenging to perform.
Here is a youtube clip of Valentina Lisitsa showing us how it’s done. This went viral and made her world famous:
You always learn new things when performing, and I realised whilst playing that this piece is a real roller-coaster ride! Once you are on, you can’t really get off. It may of course have moments that feel wobbly (or need more practise!). Yet interestingly, I believe Rachmaninoff wrote this piece in a very logical way. As a composer, I can see a line that goes through the whole piece and gives a clear sense of direction when performing from memory. The jumping chordal sections require precision that leave little room for error, but it is all written in a way that fits to the hands, the mind and the heart. A pleasure to perform.
An Evening of Music
The opportunity of having a great piano and a venue available for the weekend was too good to miss, and so Susanna organized a concert for the following evening. This would feature Susanna and I playing the piano, with great musicians joining us for the evening: Jon Stabler on Cello and Jennie Mason-Smith on Flute. The concert featured inspiring music from Mozart, Mendelsohn and Perilhou, to Oscar Peterson and The Piano Guys. The program had been well arranged by Susanna, with variations in character and colour that clearly moved the audience (some to tears!). Highlights included fiendishly difficult flute playing from Jennie on ‘Ballade’ by Perilhou, while the finale of ‘Going Home’ by The Piano Guys, with Jon on Cello and Susanna on piano, was a fitting end to what had been a great evening of music.
It was also a chance to perform some of the works I have composed. When I am not teaching, I am writing new music. This music is being written primarily for a trio that includes Jon Stabler on Cello, Susanna Downes on Flute, and myself on piano. It was a very proud moment to perform these pieces, which have had a lot of rehearsal time put in to them. When performing with ensemble, you start to realize the connection you have with your fellow performers. Hearing Jon and Susanna apply all their musicianship to these little pieces I had written was a very touching and proud moment for me. These pieces were recorded live, and you can hear the results by following the link to my soundcloud page.